The Dallas Cowboys parted ways with long-time Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan shortly after the 2018 season. To replace him, they stayed within the organization and promoted Kellen Moore who spent a year as the Quarterbacks Coach. The idea was to get a fresh face in the building and open up an often predictable offense and showcase more of the abilities of Dak Prescott and find news ways to get the ball to All-Pro Ezekiel Elliott.
Moore definitely came into his new job with high expectations and an excitement to get to work with such a talented group of players, as he expressed when talking about the roster before the season.
“I think the beauty of our current roster is we have a lot of versatility,” Moore said. “We have guys that can kind of line up in a lot of different places. Hopefully, we can be multiple and present things in different ways, and at the end of the day, we still have our foundation and our philosophy. You can run similar plays just out of a lot of different looks”.
The interesting word in this quote is philosophy. It’s been pretty clear since 2016 that the best formula for success when it comes to the Cowboys is establishing Elliott and playing ball control behind their offensive line. However, doing it for a game or two is one thing, but it’s an entirely different thing to do it consistently.
Things couldn’t have started any better in the first three games for Moore in his first season as OC. Prescott had over 900 yards and nine touchdowns, Elliott was off to the best three-game start of his career, the Cowboys were averaging over 32 points per game, and most importantly the team was 3-0. However, things didn’t continue to go so smoothly.
In Week 10 vs the Minnesota Vikings, the Cowboys had a 1st and 10 at the 19-yard line trailing 28-24 with 1:57 left in the fourth quarter. After Prescott completed an eight-yard pass to Amari Cooper the Cowboys faced a 2nd and 2. They ran the ball with Elliott for no gain. On 3rd and 2 they ran him again, this time for a three-yard loss. On 4th and 5, Moore designed a play for Elliott as the primary receiver out of the backfield. The pass was incomplete and the Cowboys lost.
Normally with only two yards to gain to move the chains, you run Elliott more times than not. However, Prescott had driven the Cowboys from the six-yard line all the way to the red zone, accounting for every yard except for a four-yard carry from Elliott. Also, Cooper and Randall Cobb were both over 100 yards receiving. There was no excuse for Moore taking the ball out of Prescott’s hands in this particular situation.
Of the Cowboys two three-game losing streaks this season the most recent was without question the most frustrating when it comes to Moore and his play-calling abilities. In Week 12 vs the New England Patriots, the Cowboys established Elliott early against the NFL’s top defensive unit. He had 61 yards on 15 carries in the first half. The second half, however, was a completely different story. Moore only called Elliott’s number six times in the final 30 minutes of play. Mind you, the Cowboys were only down 10-6 at halftime. There was no reason to abandon the run that early in a four-point game.
A week later vs the Buffalo Bills saw Elliott get off to a fast start once again. Against a top-three defense, he had 56 yards on 10 carries in the first half. Unfortunately, like the week before, Moore wouldn’t utilize Elliott in the second half. The Cowboy’s workhouse back only had two carries for 15 yards after halftime. Moore instead decided to air it out with Prescott who ended up with 49 pass attempts, a number he should never see with Elliott in the same backfield. Unwise approach from Moore in the second half of this one and the Cowboys eventually lost 26-15.
Having lost the previous two games the Cowboys rolled into the Windy City to face the Chicago Bears. Elliott, for the third consecutive game, started fast carrying the football eight times on a 17 play drive that took almost nine minutes off the clock and put the Cowboys ahead 7-0. Unfortunately, Moore didn’t stick to this formula and only called 11 running plays for Elliott for the rest of the game, as opposed to 43 passes for Prescott. That means for the final 51 minutes Elliott only had 11 carries which is unacceptable.
This past Sunday vs the Philadelphia Eagles was the most glaring example of poor play-calling from Moore in my opinion. On the opening drive of the second half, the Cowboys methodically moved the ball down the field looking to take the lead in a 10-6 ball game. Elliott ran the ball for eight yards on first down setting up a 2nd and 2 from the Eagles 26-yard line. After Tony Pollard was stopped for a one-yard gain the next play was truly mind-blowing. Moore called an option play on 3rd and 1. Not only that, he ran it to the short side of the field. Pollard would fumble and all the momentum the Cowboys had built was gone.
The other head-scratcher came on the Cowboys final offensive play. On 4th and 8 from the Eagles 23, the Cowboys were down 17-9 and looking to force overtime. Moore called an offensive package that didn’t include Cooper or Cobb. So on the most important play of the season, you take out your number one receiver and your biggest threat in the slot? Unbelievable.
As the Cowboys desperately look to make the playoffs next week one thing is pretty much a formality, Head Coach Jason Garrett will be gone after this season. Now, Kellen Moore is also someone the organization has to take a look at. I just highlighted four very winnable games for the Cowboys that they, unfortunately, suffered defeat in. A huge factor in each loss was play-calling. The Cowboys could possibly be 11-4 right now instead of 7-8 and on the outside looking in when it comes to the playoffs. If Moore does return in 2020 he will have to be a lot better in sticking to what is working in a particular game and improve his situational play-calling.